Buying little dreams. Economics and literature.

The Portugese author Fernando Pessoa wrote: ‘The buyers of useless things are wiser than is commonly supposed – they buy little dreams.’ This is a big part of what markets are about. Whether you are buying cosmetics, a lottery ticket, or an oil painting, you are constructing, defining or memorialising your dreams into vivd and physically real forms. Gabriel García Marquéz, in his Living to Tell the Tale (Vivar Para Contrala  ‘Living in Order to Tell it’ is arguably a better or at least a more literal translation), understood the power of stories. His opening quotation notes: ‘Life is not what one lived but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.’

From The Age of the Infovore (US link), that must be among the best paragraphs written by Tyler Cowen, or at least one of the ones that most exemplifies him. Literature and art can be seen as achieving something similar and related. Some sort of self-discovery, or a process of self-enactment, is achieved by reading (or writing or teaching, which Harold Bloom defines as all the same), as it is when we ‘buy little dreams’. Markets are a form of collective expression and imagination. Perhaps that’s one reason why the the markets we run in our towns and villages are so popular but they become more disliked as they become global, commoditised and complex. People don’t want to think of their dreams in that way. And what’s so different when we instead turn to information and the internet, perhaps the largest most complicated market of them all. As Cowen says later on in the book, ‘Why buy an expensive brand repeatedly when you can make you own economy in your head?’

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